Pete Sixsmith goes to Edinburgh, inspects the Fringe programme and then sees a match that makes him question his decision to watch football and not a spot of drama. A question reinforced by grim post-match encounter with the non-attending Hibs “casuals”, desperately sad and sub-human relics of football’s dark, yob days …
What is it with our pre-season and heavy rain?
Three years ago, a downpour of biblical proportions deluged Dublin, leading to the cancellation of our game with Shamrock Rovers, two years ago the heavens opened as we arrived in Amsterdam, soaking those of us who had packed, rather than worn, waterproofs while last year we were soaked in Sinsheim prior to the Hoffenheim game.
This year, it was Scotland’s turn to turn the water on Wearside’s finest, as the rain came down in stair rods over that nation’s capital, turning Easter Road and its environs into a passable imitation of the streets of Venice at low tide. When it rains in Scotland, it does so with a vengeance, almost as if it wants to wash away the memories of Union in 1707.
Believe me, Edinburgh in August is awash with English accents, usually those of the upper and middle classes, as various Drama Societies descend on the city to give the other upper and middle class visitors their take on Dying With Dignity or the Problems With Capitalism or The Witchfinder General, Matthew Hopkins.
All of these were on display on the Royal Mile as I traversed part of that well walked thoroughfare, a recurrent bout of the gall stones keeping me out of the pubs and restaurants of Auld Reekie.
The Fringe was opening and Doug Forrest and I were invited to a large number of shows being held that very afternoon. Had we been aware of the non-event that was about to take place at Easter Road, we may well have been attracted by a performance by a group of Japanese mime artists, dressed in black and re-enacting their nations nuclear disasters.
Instead, we went to the home of Hibernian, along with 3,000 Sunderland supporters and an equal number of Hibees. First disappointment came when I realised we were sat in the front row, not quite under the cover of the stand roof. Second disappointment came when Hibs did not come out to the wonderful Sunshine On Leith by The Proclaimers. Presumably the DJ thought that was stretching the irony a bit too far as the rain lashed down!!
They say that disappointments come in threes and our third one lasted for 90 minutes as we failed to muster a single worthwhile attempt on the Hibs goal. Part of this was due to impressive performances from the two young Hibs defenders, Stephens and Palsson. Both have decent pedigrees (Norwich and Liverpool respectively) and both could build themselves careers in the SPL.
They held Asamoah Gyan well and, after his withdrawal just past the hour, gave Ji Dong-Won the hardest game he has had for Sunderland. I would like to think that we could keep an eye on both of them.
The only advantage to sitting so close to the players was to get a real buzz from watching Wes Brown and how he never takes his eye off the ball, whether heading or tackling. Compare him with Anton, who is too often in the wrong place or who misses headers and you have the difference between excellence and competence. He could be a very good signing for us if he retains enthusiasm and fitness.
Seb Larsson also did well putting in a series of good crosses and always looking for the ball. Here is a player who looks as if he is really enjoying his time at Sunderland after a lengthy spell at Birmingham City. Bigger club, bigger fan base and better facilities may well turn him from a good player to a very good player.
Of the rest, nothing outstanding and nothing disastrous, although I noted that Craig Gardner is more subtle at gaining retribution than Lee Cattermole. Gardner was fouled off the ball by Garry O’Connor, a former team mate at Birmingham City. O’Connor said something to him and it was not a friendly exchange. Catts would have extracted revenge straight away and got a card of one colour or another, but Gardner waited and then paid him back when three players were tussling for the ball. Shades of Jimmy McNab, I thought.
There was some unpleasantness on the walk back to the city centre, involving the Hibs casuals, who had not been to the game, but who assembled in Easter Road looking for a stramash. These were all guys in their 30s and 40s who wanted to do nothing but fight. Some Sunderland fans took the bait and there was some fairly serious scuffling which upset a little lad and his mum, Sunderland fans from Dunfermline. They were pleased to catch a bus and get away from these Begbie wannabes.
The train journey home was much more pleasant than anticipated, with the rain dampening the spirits and a large contingent of British Transport Police handling the situation in an intelligent and thoughtful manner. We shared our first class seats (ah, the benefits of a Senior Railcard) with a couple of guys who had been to Murrayfield and who just enjoyed watching sport. Good craic all the way home and without any serious stomach troubles, so a good end to the day.
Liverpool next week – return to the slopey floor pub and competitive football. Both will be very, very welcome.